The Battle 4 Atlantis basketball tournament in the Bahamas was the coming out party for the Villanova Wildcats last Thanksgiving. The Wildcats upset a top-five ranked Kansas Jayhawks team and then the Iowa Hawkeyes spring boarding them into the national spotlight for the remainder of the season. This year’s tournament has the potential to do the same thing for both the Butler Bulldogs and Georgetown Hoyas.
With the entire Big East on an absolute tear (besides you, Marquette) it only makes sense that Butler and Georgetown should have some added confidence going into the tournament. First, Creighton upset Oklahoma, then Providence beat Florida State and Notre Dame, and last but not least Villanova took out VCU and Michigan. These were all great wins for the conference and I’m sure the Bulldogs and Hoyas are hungry to join the party.
Some great teams join the two Big East programs in this year’s Battle 4 Atlantis. These are the North Carolina Tar Heels, Oklahoma Sooners, UCLA Bruins, Wisconsin Badgers, UAB Blazers, and the Wisconsin Badgers.
Butler opens up with North Carolina in the noon slot. Both teams stand at three wins to zero losses, but the Bulldogs are clear underdogs to the top-5 program. Butler’s interim head coach, Chris Holtmann, will have his hands full trying to contain National Player of the Year candidate Marcus Paige. Although the six foot one inch guard from Iowa hasn’t put up great numbers out of the gate, Paige is the clear leader of this Tar Heel squad and bound to explode soon. The guy who has put up the best numbers for Roy Williams’ team early on is sophomore forward Kennedy Meeks, who is averaging16.7 points and 11 rebounds through their three games.
Meanwhile, the Bulldogs are untested so far this year with an average margin of victory of35 points. These all have come against inferior opponents. UNC is quite a step up in class, so we will see if the improved offense from a year ago can sustain its firepower going forward. After missing last year, Roosevelt Jones, has immediately made his presence felt averaging 10.7 points and 7.3 assists. Freshman Kelan Martin burst on to the scene in their last game against Loyola (MD), scoring 23 points in only 18 minutes.
Combine this with preseason first-team Big East Kellen Dunham and Butler might just have enough firepower to hang around with the Tar Heels. The trouble is more likely to be on the defensive end where Butler will have to try and stop the supreme athletes of North Carolina. Tomorrow Butler will play the winner or loser of the UCLA/ Oklahoma matchup, which is another good test. How this team will fare in 2014-15 will be much clearer in a couple of days.
For the Hoyas, they are matched up with the Florida Gators at 9:30. Much like Butler, John Thompson III’s team hasn’t been pushed yet. Freshman L.J. Peak and senior Josh Smith have both looked great offensively and preseason Player of the Year in the Big East, D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera has efficiently run the team even though his shot has been cold thus far. If Smith can stay out of foul trouble and play with high intensity, the Hoyas should be able to get buckets on the offensive end.
Billy Donovan’s Florida team is depleted going into the tournament and may be limited to six scholarship players for the quarterfinal matchup. With a similar lineup against the Miami Hurricanes, Florida was upset on their home floor last week. Dorian Finney-Smith and Eli Carter are both cogs for the Gators this year, but both are questionable for the game with Georgetown. Finney-Smith has averaged 15 points, while Carter has averaged 14.5.
Out of the remaining Gators, Michael Frazier II is the team’s best player. The lone returning starter from last year’s Final 4 team has led them in scoring so far with 16 a night. In order for them to beat the Hoyas Frazier is going to have to come to play, especially if Finney-Smith and Carter cannot. After this matchup, Georgetown will go on to play the winner or loser of Wisconsin and UAB.
Butler and Georgetown both have great chances for quality wins at the Atlantis in the next couple of days. With the tournament being so high in class in terms of the teams involved, resume building wins can bring these programs into the national spotlight and further cement the Big East’s place in college basketball’s elite.